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Out of the Ashes of 9/11: Freedom Tower Is Rising

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When I was a kid, I watched the World Trade Center in New York City being built. I could see it from my Queens rooftop. Armed with a pair of good binoculars, I could catch all the action, and it amazed me to see those two glass and steel marvels rising against the sky.

Of course, the World Trade Center's birth came from a death of the neighborhood that was annihilated when it was built. I do not recall the area because I was too young (ground was broken for the buildings in 1966), but my father well remembers that streets were shut down and over a hundred buildings demolished to make room for the 16-acre site. He even recalls buying a watch in one of the stores that were leveled. Shops, businesses, and apartments were eliminated to accommodate the massive project. The death of a little neighborhood in the big city occurred in order to spawn a complex with the largest buildings in the world (at least for a short time until Sears Tower in Chicago opened in 1974).

The World Trade Center rose in my childhood and dominated my thinking about the city I loved as I became a man. While I had been to the top of the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty, nothing seemed to compare to visiting the Twin Towers or "the Trades" as some people called them. Being in my nascent photographer stage, I took all sorts of pictures of the Twin Towers once they were completed. Sadly, like the buildings captured in those shots, those photographs no longer exist.

The two iconic towers could be seen from almost anywhere in this town, and they immediately became the recognizable symbol of New York City all over the world. Tourists flocked to visit the observatory, take pictures of the cityscape that flowed all around it, and dine in the premier restaurant Windows on the World. After visiting the top of one of the buildings, there was a feeling that you had touched, if not heaven, the closest thing to it in the sky.

I, like so many New Yorkers and citizens of this nation and the world, was left devastated by the attacks of September 11, 2001. Arguably, it seemed that no city had ever been so irreparably altered by an act of war as had New York on that day. While a few loons danced in the streets to celebrate in foreign lands, most human beings on the planet saw this as a terrible blow to not just New York but to civilization as we know it.

Indeed, the World Trade Center had not just been a symbol but a place where people of all nationalities worked and unfortunately many died. I lost a family member that day and two childhood friends, and the loss changed my life forever, as it did the lives of so many others. I was inspired to write a book of fiction in reaction to what happened, and it took me almost a year to even attempt to write it, and then another two and a half years to complete it. I took no pleasure in writing those words, but they ended up being therapeutic for me, and the book stands as something that came out of the horror of that seemingly beautiful Tuesday in September that morphed into the worst day in the lives of so many people.

Almost nine years later there is great noise and activity at the site as it seems that work is truly ongoing to build a new symbol of New York out of the ashes. One does not even have to go there to get an idea of the progress; a live video feed is provided by the Port Authority of New York for anyone to see what is happening there.

If you come to New York City, take the E train to the World Trade Center stop. When I ride the subway today, I cannot believe it is the same train system that I used to ride years ago. It is clean, relatively efficient, and free of graffiti that at one time covered the walls of every car on every line. Tourists who come here for the first time must be impressed by the condition of the subways these days and, quite frankly, so am I.

Once you come up the steps and walk toward the construction site, your view will be mostly blocked by a fence that has been covered with material to keep out prying eyes. If you look above the fence toward the skyline, you can see all manner of construction cranes and hear all the grinding, drilling, and pounding that tells you work is being done.

As I stood there on the corner of Vesey and West Streets, looking at the scene, I couldn't help but tip my head back and remember those majestic towers pressing up against the sky. At that moment a soft rain began to fall, and it seemed fitting that the clouds came rolling in off the Hudson River and cast an ominous shadow on the apparent progress happening below.

I walked away from the scene thinking about my son: his New York City will be one with the Freedom Tower dominating the skyline. He will hear the story about the watch his grandfather bought long ago in a store that had to be bulldozed to make room for the first World Trade Center towers. He will be told about his father standing on a black tar roof and watching with binoculars as the buildings rose toward the sky, and he will learn about 9/11 from his family and in school.

But he will never know what it was like to stand on the street and look up at the Twin Towers, just as I will never know what it was like to walk into a Mom and Pop electronics store and buy a watch in a place that one day would be Ground Zero, a place where time almost stood still for New Yorkers on 9/11.

No, his reality will only include a bright and shining beacon of hope and prosperity: the Freedom Tower. He will visit the 9/11 Memorial, perhaps read his Uncle Steve's name on a wall, and he will walk out into the sunshine and stare up at a skyscraper like I once did and think about heaven.

My wish for him and all our sons and daughters is that they will never forget 9/11 but be able to embrace a future where nothing like it will ever happen again.

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About Victor Lana

Victor Lana has published numerous stories, articles, and poems in literary magazines and online. His books In a Dark Time (1994), A Death in Prague (2002), Move (2003), The Savage Quiet September Sun: A Collection of 9/11 Stories (2005) and Like a Passing Shadow (2009) are available online and as e-books. He has won the National Arts Club Award for Poetry, but has concentrated mostly on fiction and non-fiction prose in recent years. He has worked as faculty advisor to school literary magazines and enjoys the creative process as a writer, editor, and collaborator. He has been with Blogcritics since July 2005, has edited many articles, was co-head sports editor with Charley Doherty, and now is a Culture and Society editor. He views Blogcritics as one of most exciting, fresh, and meaningful opportunities in his writing life.
  • http://etierphotography.blogspot.com/ FCEtier

    Robert Frost once said something close to, “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.” Excellent writing Vic. You can move your readers with words and written images and evoke emotions. I envy your writing skills.

  • A Geek Girl

    It is strange to think that our kids will only the WTC through videos and photos. Sorry about Steve. It must have been difficult for you waiting so long to see them get this started.

    Have you taken your son to watch them do construction on the Freedom Tower? As you had watched them work on WTC? You probably should. Like passing something along to him. He’ll tell his children that he stood with his dad and watched them build it.

    Great article Vic. I could really feel it.

    Your book looks interesting too. The catharsis of gathering and sharing.

  • Ruvy

    Victor,

    Excellent article.

    I hope for your sake (not to mention millions of other New Yorkers, including my own sister) that the coming storm season does not bring poisons from the Gulf to New York City, and that you and yours can stay there for many years, enjoying a city I once was happy to call home.

    Shabbat Shalom

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Thanks to everyone for their comments (Chip, you are too kind).

    Geek Girl, my son is only 18 months old. I’ll be taking him when he’s older and can understand.

    Ruvy, thanks. Yes, those “poisons” are worrisome and not just for us. Some predict they will reach Scotland by the end of the year. A horror beyond imagination!!!

  • http://blogcritics.org/writers/dr-dreadful/ Dr Dreadful

    Beautifully written piece, Vic.

    Millions of words have been written about the Twin Towers and the awful events of that day, but you’ve managed to inject a unique perspective and voice. Kudos.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Many thanks, Dr D!

  • http://www.indyboomer46.blogspot.com Baritone

    I lived in NYC back in 1969 and 70. I drove a cab among other things. I remember driving around the construction site delivering fares to various Wall St. addresses or perhaps to the Battery. There was always a kind of buzz going on about the Towers to come.

    At first, I must admit, I hadn’t even heard of them – didn’t understand the significance of the project. I came to the City a clueless wide kid from Indy. As is always the case, there is construction of major proportions going on all over NYC, so it didn’t seem exceptional to me.

    But, then I heard about how these buildings were going to dwarf the Empire State Building; how they would be the tallest buildings in the world, and that they would last forever as a monument to the greatness of our country and the city of New York. I left NYC long before their completion, so I never made it to the top.

    Now there is such a mixed bag of emotions tied to those buildings and the tower and monument that is to replace them. When completed, I wonder if some folks may have to swallow hard to just enter the new tower, let alone to work there. Perhaps, but I suppose life goes on. Fears, along with memories, tend to fade.

    B

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    You make a good point, Baritone. I believe that the buildings will go up and have vacancies for a few years. The way I remember it, even as they were completing the top floors of the Twin Towers, they couldn’t get all the space rented out.

    It will take time but people will come back. That first ride to the top will be an experience filled with fear, hope, anger, and more.

  • http://jonsobel.com/ Jon Sobel

    Great article. I heard that it was not being officially called the Freedom Tower any more. But I wonder if people will use that name anyway once it’s built.

  • http://www.indyboomer46.blogspot.com Baritone

    Mr. Lana,

    I took note that you are a published and prize winning poet as well as a novelist. You might find my son’s web site, cellpoems.org of interest. It is designed to publish short poems – generally no longer than the limits placed on “twitter” messages. He has received a number of prominant poet’s submissions including offerings from Billy Collins, William Logan and Chris Wiman among others.

    I understand that it may not be your cup of tea, but I thought it worth mentioning to you.

    B

  • http://www.indyboomer46.blogspot.com Baritone

    Or not.

  • http://viclana.blogspot.com/ Victor Lana

    Hi!

    Baritone, I’ve been away and just getting through all my e-mails and snail mail, etc. I’ll definitely check it out. Thanks.